Top positive review
5.0 out of 5 starsThey Always Come in Threes
Reviewed in the United States 🇺🇸 on December 15, 2014
Arthur Bryant and John May, London's oldest working detectives, are back on the job in this enjoyable mystery by Christopher Fowler. As in other books of the series, we start with an incomprehensible and seemingly unsolvable crime, though at first no one is quite sure there was indeed a crime, and wend our way to a satisfying and logical conclusion, by way of London's history, its endless supply of eccentric and enigmatic characters, and, of course, the skewed and unconventional viewpoint of the Peculiar Crimes Unit.
The story opens with two children playing Witch Hunter on a Saturday in the heart of London while their fathers put the affairs of The City ahead of their families. A young lady, sitting on a park bench reading, tires of the children and their incomprehensible game and seeks solace in a nearby church. And there she dies. Just dies. No apparent cause. The very lack of evidence draws the attention of Bryant, who decides to poke around, even though there is little chance of getting the case (What case? She just died, and that's it.") away from the City of London Police. One thing leads to another, and they find themselves standing before their Home Office boss and long-time enemy, Oskar Kasavian, who comes to his nemeses, hat in hand, so to speak, asking them to investigate his young wife's odd behavior, to which Bryant and May agree, on condition they are given the case of the unmurdered girl in church.
Christopher Fowler knows London and its history almost as well as do his elderly detectives, who have been plying their trade in the metropolis since at least the Hitlerian War. To make sense of the crime and the ones that inevitably follow, he takes us beneath centuried churches, into clubs with infernal histories, to museums well off the beaten path, and into the presences of characters who could only exist in a city like London. All of this is manna for both mystery fans and Anglophiles.
With any series of books, each book has to be able to stand on its own, even in one like the Peculiar Crimes Unit series, where the books are sequential, and characters evolve over time, or are killed off and replaced. "The Invisible Code" is no exception, and it does so, for the most part. But while those of us who have been there since the beginning ("Full Dark House") will have no problem keeping track of who's who, others might struggle a bit with some of the minor characters of the Unit, who seem to flit through the background now and then with only a name by way of introduction, characters who were fully fleshed out in previous books but who now seem to have the status of dogsbodies. Even Raymond Land, long-time Acting Head of the Unit, is but a shadow of his former self, not even the subject of Bryant's usual barbs and witticisms.
Another problem with the story lies not in the solution, but in the mechanism of the solution, the introduction of a stray character out of the blue, asking the questions that need to be asked, pointing out the connections that have been overlooked. Though Fowler drapes this source of sudden insight with all the enigmatic trappings and characteristics we have come to expect, it does not change the fact that he is the godlike machine dropping out of the ceiling to bring about the resolution of the plot.
However, even with its shortcomings, which are minor taken in context, "The Invisible Code" is still an enjoyable read. The two detectives remain as charming as they are irascible, and they are one of the two reasons I keep coming back to this series. The other is the revealed obscure and fascinating history of London and its inhabitants, from the callous yob to the scatter-brained white witch to the mysterious men who prowl the corridors of power like ravenous wolves. And as long as all those elements persist, I will return.